Thursday, July 14, 2016

Writing yourself to the other side of pain

A friend of mine recently began writing his stories… but he started by writing about the most traumatic year of his life. Yikes!

I’ve seen people begin their memoir by writing super-painful stuff, only to become overwhelmed all over again with the devastation—and soon they give up writing altogether. Don’t let that happen to you!

Please hear this: Begin your memoir by writing your easy stories—the happy stories, the funny incidents, the fascinating experiences. That way you can ease your way into both writing and the reflecting that memoir is.

My heart wants you to fall in love with
and pondering
and discovering all the good stuff you didn’t recognize in the past,
and with making sense of what used to mystify you,
and with writing
            and choosing just the right words
                        to fashion your story as a gift for others to read.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to write your chapters/vignettes in the same order they will appear in your finished memoir. Write them in any order that’s easiest for you. Later you can organize them in the best way.

For now, give yourself permission to begin with easy stories. Tackle your hard stories later.

Also keep this in mind: Even if you’re not physically putting your painful story into words (with pen and ink or on a computer screen), you are working on the story. I can’t explain how that works, but behind the scenes your heart and brain are working on how to write your troubling story.  

So let your heartache marinate for a few weeks or months. One day you’ll be vacuuming out the car, or playing catch with your grandson, or folding laundry, and out of the blue your heart and brain will speak to you (or maybe it’ll be God who speaks to you—I’d like to think it’s Him), and will offer insights into your hurtful experience. Listen, and jot down notes to yourself: You’ll be mining treasures. Later, when the time is right, you can use those notes to compose your difficult story’s rough draft

Also keep in mind: Your rough draft is for your eyes only. Write it all—the seared, charred, blistered parts, the questions you never had the courage to ask aloud, the doubts you never admitted before, the anger you kept bottled up.

Work out the pain—
work through the pain—
by writing with God beside you

Wrestle with God 
and with yourself
as you write.
Go ahead and cry.
Because God can bring healing
through the process of writing.

And be gentle with yourself, extend grace to yourself: Reliving those emotions and writing those scenes and conversations can be overwhelming. I know of no anguish-free way to get through that writing process, but I can encourage you with this:

Write your story as a prayer to God
and He can use the process of writing
to help you make sense of events that
knocked the air out of you,
left you broken,
maybe even paralyzed—
and to work through your grief.

If you’ll give it the needed time and if you’ll peel back enough layers and dig deeply enough, writing your stories can lead to new insights, to answers that too long evaded you, and to resolution—to getting un-stuck so you can move on to healing and forgiveness and peace and hope for the future. Writing your story changes you. 

If you stick with  it, at some point you'll find the most profound, redeeming part of writing your story:
  • You'll discover that God was beside you all the while, bringing you people and opportunities and Bible verses and Bible studies and sermons and working out His good plans—many details you probably didn't recognize in the midst of the incident, or saw only dimly. 
  • You'll also discern how far you've come, how much you've healed.
  • That, in turn, makes you overflow with gratitude toward God,
  • and that solidifies your relationship with Him.

Mick Silva says it this way: “I’ve discovered that…protecting and preserving our stories is about discovering God’s story.” I call that your “God-and-you story.

In that way, writing a memoir can be a journey of personal healing
—even if you originally set out to write it for others.

Let God teach and transform you,
and afterward,
your God-and-you story 
can help others heal.


  1. Well put, Linda. Good advice or a great reminder, depending on where each reader is. I wish I'd always known this. In early years of teaching, I had a few students flame out by writing dark stories, first and exclusively. NOT a good idea! I should have encouraged them sooner to lighten up. Personally, I write at least two light stories between dark ones.

    1. Hi, Sharon, I like your idea to write at least two light stories between dark ones. Great advice. I'll remember it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.